Two interesting pieces of news from the travel industry this week illustrate the pace of change in this sector, and how the biggest players are dealing with threats and opportunities for their businesses. Firstly Airbnb, who are being sniped at within numerous cities round the globe, by various alliances of residents, city councils, hoteliers and housing lobby groups. Latest, and particularly significant as it's Airbnb's home town, is the next stage of the battle in San Francisco where the city council is trying to increase regulation and collection of tax revenue for the online giant. Much of this battle is a PR one. Airbnb is playing the duel cards of People's Champion - "helping Californians to share their homes and pay the bills" and Spreading Economic Growth, claiming that they are channelling significant levels of tourism income into areas of the city which haven't traditionally seen any of that revenue. Airbnb's land grab of the past few years, which has seen it become a major player in an increasing number of accommodation sectors - and in many people's eyes, create a kind of Wild West of informal room lets - is under threat from the legislators and the company will need to be smart to protect its position given its fairly simple business model.
Meanwhile Google, masters of vertical and horizontal integration, have taken the learning from their Hotelfinder product (which was scary enough in itself as far as accommodation providers and aggregators were concerned) and integrated it into their "3 pack" paid search results. Meaning users can search and filter on price and also Zagat rating, then click through to book. More revenue for Google and importantly, a direct strike versus big travel sector rival Tripadvisor. There's a good piece by Koddi on the subject; here. Will Google get into the home-sharing sector...?
The new public contract regulations are coming into effect from 26th February, with a claimed reduction in "red tape" making it easier for SMEs to apply for Government contracts. Read all the small print of The Public Contracts Regulations 2015 here if you have the energy. The change which seems to offer most hope to SMEs, or maybe stops them being immediately excluded, is the new limit on the minimum turnover requirement - a supplier is now required only to evidence a turnover of twice the contract value, rather than a more discretionary and often much higher figure - although that could mean the total contract, when the SME is only interested in one Lot within that.
Two questions come to mind:
Firstly, will this actually offer any help to smaller businesses looking to get Government contracts? Unless buyers find another way within their exclusion criteria to limit the number of suppliers submitting a PQQ they will potentially receive a whole lot more submissions - which means a lower chance of winning for each of those suppliers. Lower conversion rate = more work for no benefit, which doesen't look like an improved deal for SMEs.
Secondly, and as a possibly more controversial point, where is the line between the much-loathed "red tape" and delivering maximum value for money for the taxpayer? Government surely exists to serve all citizens, not favour SMEs. More work for Government departments' buyers through having to deal with an increased number of tender submissions doesn't necessarily equate to more efficiency and value for money; they need to limit the number of applicants somehow. No-one would be very pleased if they achieved that by drawing supplier names out of a hat, so a structured approach and thresholds for involvement might still be the best way of delivering that value for taxpayers.
"Powered by X" is that tiny 2-point signoff in the corner of websites, and usually a bit of an overclaim. But where that "X" is a Fintech product, absolutely true. Businesses genuinely are being powered by their payments system, as much for the one-man-band homeworker as the giant retailer. They all need to facilitate easy payments for their customer, or pack up shop.
It's interesting to see how Starbucks are being "powered" by Fintech, using it to help strengthen their brand positioning as well as customer engagement. At their recent 3rd quarter earnings call they highlighted just how strong the uptake of their mobile wallet app has been, now accounting for more than 15% of US store transactions. CEO Howard Schultz told analysts "By integrating mobile, loyalty, payment and in-store digital experiences, we are creating the game-changing technologies and experiences for our customers and the opportunity to introduce new lines of business for our company. A prime example of this is our forthcoming mobile order and pay initiative that allows customers to use their phones and MSR [My Starbucks Rewards] accounts to order ahead of arriving at a store".
With minimal product or customer experience differentiators open to them, Starbucks' clever use of technology strengthens their brand as still cool and cutting edge, as well as customer-focused. Of course, with some valuable loyalty and data capture mechanics thrown in. Those businesses that start to think of themselves as "powered by Fintech" are realising benefits across multiple dimensions.
"We'll do it after the holidays"...
"Restarting in September"...
Sometimes it seems a kind of defeatism, this conviction that summer is not a time to achieve very much at all. Normal life to be resumed in September. Holidays, a break from work or school, are one thing - but stopping many other things from July till September just seems strange. Everything from art groups to IT help for the elderly to any kind of work project or meeting are suspended, for the duration of the school holidays. That's by the 70% of households which don't have school age children, as well as those that do.
Maybe it's longstanding envy of Mediterranean working patterns (forgetting their late nights and Saturdays) and their it's-the-summer-what-can-you-do? shrug of the shoulders. But long summer days, more sunlight and a lighter mood seem like an opportunity for energy, not defeat.
Spring has sprung and this year it's not only birds which are thinking about their nests, as Google's Nest Learning Thermometer starts to make its appearance in UK homes. This time Google's privacy-versus-cash trade-off is more explicit than previously, as Nest purchasers subsume any concerns they may have about Google learning what time they get home and how warm they like their towel rail in favour of the possibility of Cash Savings. Anything that promises to help reduce domestic energy consumption seems A Good Thing, and it's a tempting offer for sure.
This is an interesting vertical integration by Google, although they probably didn't buy Nest to get into the heating thermostat business. The division's next hardware launch may provide a better clue as to where they're going with this.
A very Happy New Year from Radiance, and thank you to everyone who gave us their business, their ideas, time or support in 2013.
Here are our Top 10 (extra) Things to Do in 2014:
- Ask yourself (again)...what business are we really in?
- Join and participate in 2 new communities - one virtual, one physical
- Have a personal "IT strategy"...spend your screentime wisely
- Play with psychogeography
- Stamp out buyer's remorse
- Select the social cause that your work will help throughout 2014
- Pick an EU market to learn from this year
- Plan a January celebration - it's then we need fun, rather than December
- Find a new pulpit
- Review this list on the 1st of every month
We've been taking part in one of the Media Trust's Speedmatching sessions - a very stimulating and intense matchmaking session which puts a variety of media industry advisors in a room with a group of small charities and not-for-profit organisations looking for communications help, and uses the speed dating model to match advisors with those they can best help. It's a great idea, everyone participating gets a lot out of the session including talking to those they don't actually "match", and very time-efficient.
In the wider world, speed dating seems to have gone away, or at least fallen out of fashion. Quite possibly because it sounds to be a fairly brutal way to evaluate a potential date, and not everyone is their sparkling best in 5-minute slots. But in a business context, the idea of brief exposure to and immediate evaluation of a lot of potential business partners has a lot going for it, and a formal framework is much more efficient than a more casual "networking" environment. Incubators and angel investors often run speed pitches as a means of identifying entrepreneurs who are fast-thinking, articulate and perform well under pressure; not quite as theatrical as Dragons Den, but a good way of spotting those who have the right qualities to make their idea happen. We've been exploring other ways in which the model could be useful, for example how about selecting an IFA, or accountant, via an intensive face-to-face matching session?
Make the rules of engagement clear, know your evaluation criteria before you start and brief people as well as possible so they give you the information you need against those criteria. And if one of those criteria is "they seem nice", that's OK too.
What the Consumer Watchdog group called a "stunning admission" by Google that it scans emails sent by gmail users seems to be more of a "stunning naivety" by some people who still thought their lunch should be free, or rather that Google should be building server farms in Oklahoma and paying the electricity bills in order that gmail users might have a valuable service at no cost to themselves. Maybe the clue was in the name; googlemail is now neatly shortened to gmail, but it should be clear who that Fred.Smith@gmail.com mail belongs to.
When Chris Anderson wrote his book "Free" back in 2010, exploring ways in which "free" could be a business model, he already had plenty of examples to draw on and Google, Facebook and the rest were well established businesses. Something-for-nothing is wishful thinking, and maybe users of no-charge services should ask themselves if they're going to be happy with the real cost before they sign up for the next one.
We're the best... Market-leading... No one else comes close...
Claiming superlative performance that out-performs the competition is a familiar approach to marketing B2B and professional services. Sometimes it's based on genuine differentiation, more often it's an easy headline not likely to be challenged. Is it a compelling claim that will influence buyers, and/or a valid marketing strategy?
For many buyers, Good Enough is good enough. They want a supplier or product that does what it says, and can be relied upon. Simply Fit For Purpose. They don't need, or want to pay for, "the best". Not unless it's going to deliver them a genuine business advantage. And how many suppliers can prove they do that?
"Best" can of course be the right positioning choice for other reasons. For a premium product, or simply for internal marketing or logistics - everyone involved, within the company, its distribution chain or its supply chain, takes pride in or is motivated by "we only use the best".
OK, so "best" can underpin a pricing strategy too; if everyone is simply Adequate, the business will go the cheapest, every time. So a genuine Best claim can help command a differentiated, i.e. premium, pricing position.
Best can be best. But understanding precisely when it's relevant, versus over spec - understanding how we can meet the real business needs of our customers - can be better.
Every so often the debate resurfaces, backed by a new piece of research that demonstrates definitively that group brainstorming is highly productive or, a pleasant way to completely waste an afternoon. Surely the answer is, Sometimes.
What is labelled The Illusion of Productivity - the fact that individuals ideating in a group can believe themselves to be more productive, benefit from social comparison, and credit themselves with a disproportionate amount of the group's output* - doesn't make it bad, or unproductive. It just means that group brainstorming per se may not be the best way of drawing out everyone's most valuable ideas. That kind of group wordplay (more often than not, sitting around a table with the dreaded whiteboard in the corner) suits some people, and not others. And because it's often the easy, default choice when some fresh thinking is required and in an organisation with a culture of running brainstorms, it doesn't need much persuasion or selling in to the participants.
However, the irony is that a little "brainstorming" and fresh thinking about how best to generate the particular ideas or solutions required, and how to leverage the individual talents of the specific brains available, would be hugely valuable. It may be that some individuals have a clear idea of how they think best, and creatively - why not ask them? Or, find out for yourself? If that's not an option, then think carefully, and creatively, about the ways of generating relevant ideas and solutions, and then Experiment.
Think about psychogeography. Think about place - familiar location versus new? Stance - sitting, standing, moving, static? Mode of interaction - verbal, written, drawings...? Individuals, pairs, groups, a combination of these? One moderator or many? A neutral moderator or one with an agenda? Collaboration or competition? Is there a role for props or tools, metaphors or analogies? Roleplaying or 6 Thinking Hats-type structure?
Brainstorm the brainstorm - invest time beforehand to get brilliant results, not afterwards sifting through oystershells.
*SOURCE: "Perception of Performance in Group Brainstorming: The Illusion of Group Productivity"/ Paul Pauhus & Others.
I was at a mentoring networking evening this week and someone requested a (closed) LinkedIn group to be set up to help our very disparate group of people, almost never meet in person, to swap learnings and share best practice. Interestingly, the organiser said they'd considered, and rejected, the idea as the network was "mainly a recruitment vehicle". Which was met with near-universal disagreement, and a chorus of endorsements for its genuine networking opportunities.
LinkedIn, whatever its irritations, has carved itself a unique niche as a facilitator of interactions which otherwise just wouldn't happen and has done so by appealing to people on several levels, both explicit and implicit. At a purely functional level, we're all aware of its information/networking capabilities, which no other mechanism, on-or off-line, comes close to. At a more personal level, it can provide both fuel for the nosy, and an opportunity for the competitive, whether contact-counting or recommendation-harvesting. Plus, an opportunity to rewrite history a little, in the form of a self-authored and glowing personal profile. What's not to like?
What hasn't taken off so well, it would appear, are corporate profiles; many companies' LinkedIn profiles are a poor shadow of their Facebook pages or websites. There's almost a tickbox feeling, "we have to be there", and a lot of cut-and-pasting from elsewhere, it seems.
Does that matter? Probably not. Horses for courses, and maybe LinkedIn can't be good at everything; it has a strong, and at present seemingly unassailable, hold on personal professional profiles and contacts, so its users are focusing on how it can work hard P2P. There may be a bottom-up way to reverse that into a benefit for corporate profiles, which not many businesses are approaching in a structured way - worth thinking about.
Talking about people's personal social capital and how they can monetise their reputation is a hot topic currently, and big at the recent SXSW ideas-fest. Online trust footprints, and how they can replace traditional validation engines such as credit checks and even CVs, is interesting to many commercial organisations as well as individuals.
From trust-based hiring sites such as TaskRabbit to the attempts by TrustCloud and others to consolidate a person's online trustworthiness and turn it into a more tangible, useable personal currency, through to trial-by-media for ill-judged past Twitter statements, the debate about personal image and perceptions is very much about the online environment. Seems like the focus has moved on from the offline days of Image Consultants telling people to wear less grey, or the efforts of PR teams, I mean "reputation management", to smarten people up and train them not to mumble in media interviews.
Surely it's not either/or, but about taking a more holistic view? Yes, think long and hard about your digital persona and the reputation capital you're deriving from it. But then, think equally hard about every other touchpoint and opportunity for people to form and build an impression about who you are and what you stand for. The start point has to be authenticity. That online-and-offline persona has to be integrated and to work hard for you - but feel right, too.
Which prompts the question... how do you (and how does everyone else) form an opinion about people? Their character, status, expertise, trustworthiness? Judging books by their covers is hard-wired into us, whether face-to-face or via a photo, but what beyond that? The company someone keeps (real or virtual), what they say or write, their accent, tone of voice, gait and posture, participation in certain groups or bodies or activities... Try asking yourself exactly how you judge people, and then examining how you stack up against those criteria, in the eyes and ears (and nose?) of other people.
What's a habit and what's a purposeful behaviour?
Sometimes it's a worthwhile exercise to review some of your daily activities, the ones that, if you think about them, have become pretty habitual. The ones that you might preface, if describing your day, with "I always..." or "I often...". It might be as basic as having a first (second?) cup of coffee as you check your emails first thing. Or "getting two chore X out of the way first thing, before I...". They without doubt started out as "purposeful" - they were the best choice of action at the time, and humans are generally programmed to take the best choice available to them, as a means of getting what they want. But are those habitual behaviours and routines still serving their purpose? Or, has the world moved on and is there a better way of achieving that original objective? Is what has now become a habit still serving you well, or is it stopping you being open to better, or more creative, options?
Most of us use habits of some kind to navigate our way through our days efficiently. Not the biting-your-nails kind of habits, but the ones where you do something almost on autopilot, and certainly don't want to invest much time or effort in thinking about it. To use a mundane example, if you "always" read your emails in the morning whilst commuting, it probably started out partly because it seemed an efficient use of time, partly to avoid travel boredom. Tick, tick. But take a few minutes to think about that behaviour. Having practised it repeatedly for months or even years, is it still helping you get what you want, or is it helping you ossify? Is there a more effective, even inspiring, way of preparing for the day ahead? Try making yourself achieve that end goal in a different way - see how it feels, and whether it leads in turn to some other benefits.
Be different. Not just from other people, but be different from yourself.
Big enthusiasm for Feedly at present, despite its fairly aggressive burrowing into your data and activity. The slightly surreal combo of headlines from Wired, Guardian, Springwise and La Nuova Sardegna keep you guessing. Remains to be seen if it helps manage information overload, or simply hoovers up time better spend Doing.
3D London MeetUp group - a really collaborative bunch of people keen to share their 3D learning and experiences. Must have been like this in Victorian times when people gathered to hear the latest invention at the Royal Society and marvel and what wasn't yet called "new technology". Great that people are excited about "manufacturing" again. The challenge for 3D printing now, which is also known as "additive manufacturing", is to ensure the excitement is about the end product, not just the technology.
Always worth a re-look, the old "Chicken Soup for the Soul" adage of taking 5 actions a day, 5 days a week, to help you get where you want to be...We're recommending it to everyone this week!
A rewarding first day of this project for us, mentoring some aspiring entrepreneurs at The Prince's Trust HQ. Its interesting to compare their attitudes towards their business plan, ranging from a terrifying mountain to climb, to a means of unlocking funding - seems to be always done for other people, rather than a useful tool and roadmap for themselves. How to turn business plan from scary to inspiring?
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